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How to use ChatGPT

If you want to use the most popular AI chatbot available, we'll walk you through how to get started with ChatGPT and get the most out of it.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
ChatGPT on mobile
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

OpenAI's ChatGPT unleashed an artificial intelligence (AI) movement when it rolled out last fall. Since then, the AI chatbot has dominated headlines and preoccupied the minds of executives running TwitterGoogleAmazon, Microsoft, and Meta, inspiring them to create their own generative AI projects.

Though ChatGPT only launched last November, it gained 100 million users by January 2023, quickly becoming the fastest-growing 'app' of all time, surpassing TikTok -- until Threads dethroned it in July

Also: 4 ways generative AI can stimulate the creator economy

ChatGPT is so popular and high-performing that some wonder if the AI chatbot could replace programmerswriters, and even doctors. Others are thinking about how it could revolutionize different industries.

How to use ChatGPT

1. Go to chat.openai.com and log in or register

Start by going to chat.openai.com and then use an email address or a Google or Microsoft account to sign up. You need to create an account on the OpenAI website to log in and access ChatGPT, but it is free. 

Also: How does ChatGPT actually work?

If you've never created an account, click 'Sign up' and follow the prompts to enter your information. OpenAI does require a valid phone number for verification to create an account on its website.

Log in to ChatGPT

If you haven't created an account, click on 'Sign up'. Otherwise, log in with your OpenAI credentials.

Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Accept the disclaimers from ChatGPT

Next, you may see a few disclaimers before you can chat with the AI chatbot. Read and accept them one by one to enter the chat.

ChatGPT disclaimer
Maria Diaz/ZDNET

3. Learn how to use ChatGPT

Once you've logged in to your OpenAI account on the ChatGPT side of the website, it's time to get to know the AI tool's window. Here's a breakdown of what you will see, with the image below as an example:

  • New chat & hide sidebar buttons: On the left-hand side of your screen, you'll see a button for 'New chat' that you can click on to start a fresh conversation at any time. ChatGPT remembers what was previously discussed in a conversation and will respond with context, so starting a new chat will create a new discussion without context. 
  • Chat history: The left sidebar also keeps all your previous conversations accessible in case you need to go back to one, although there is the option for turning off chat history. Here, you can edit the title of each chat, share your chat history with others, or delete it.
  • Account: Clicking on your name on the bottom left of your screen will give you access to your account information, including settings, the option to log out, get help, and access FAQs from OpenAI. If you don't have ChatGPT Plus, you'll see an Upgrade button here to sign up for it.
  • Your prompts: The questions or prompts you send the AI chatbot appear in the middle of the chat window with your account photo or initials to the left.
  • ChatGPT's responses: Whenever ChatGPT responds to your queries, the logo will appear on the left. The Copy, Thumbs Up, and Thumbs Down buttons appear to the right of each response. You can copy the text to your clipboard to paste it elsewhere and provide feedback on whether the response was accurate. This process helps fine tune the AI tool.
  • Regenerate response: If you have issues getting a response in the chat or don't get a satisfactory answer, you can click on 'Regenerate response' to prompt ChatGPT to try again with a new reply for the latest prompt.
  • Text area: This is the section where you enter your prompts and questions.
  • ChatGPT version: OpenAI includes some fine print below the text input area, where you can read the disclaimer that, "ChatGPT can make mistakes. Consider checking important information." This section used to show the version of the ChatGPT model currently in use, but this has been discontinued.

Also: The ethics of generative AI: How we can harness this powerful technology

ChatGPT window

At this point, you can enter your prompts to kick off the conversation with ChatGPT.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. Start writing your prompts and questions

Now that you know how to log in and access ChatGPT, it's time to start. You can ask the language model any burning questions you might have and see what answers you get -- the possibilities are literally endless. ChatGPT is a tool that can be applied in a huge range of projects, from software development to writing and onto translations, and so much more.

Also: Extending ChatGPT: Can AI chatbot plugins really change the game?

Type in any ChatGPT prompts in the text bar at the bottom of the page and click on the submit button to send your questions. The AI chatbot will then generate text to provide helpful answers to your queries.

ChatGPT window

When you send ChatGPT a message, it'll reply within a few seconds. 

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

ZDNET's ChatGPT guides

ChatGPT is certainly not overrated; users can come up with creative ideas for anything, from asking questions in search of funny answers to correcting a bug in code. Across all these areas, one thing is abundantly clear: what makes this AI tool remarkable isn't how innovative it is, but how great it is at generating text, and how accessible and easy it is to use. 

Here are some of ZDNET's guides on different ways to use ChatGPT:

How to use ChatGPT to write code

How to use ChatGPT for work

How to use ChatGPT for school

Useful ChatGPT tips


What is the best way to use ChatGPT?

ChatGPT can generate responses to prompts -- a feature that could eventually challenge search engines -- that are good enough to become an essential tool for content generation, from writing essays to summarizing a book for you. 

The better the prompt, the better the response you'll get. Here are examples of prompts you could start with:

  • How does a computer store and process information?
  • Analyze this code and tell me how to fix it: [Paste the code]
  • Write a poem about migraine in the style of Walt Whitman.
  • What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium?
  • Write a sick note for my child who is missing school.
  • Write a song/poem about [insert topic here] -- try adding multiple details. 
  • Give it a list of ingredients from your pantry and ask it to write a recipe with them.
  • Ask it to summarize ideas or concepts.
  • Request a packing list for a three-day trip to the beach.

Your imagination is the limit. Have fun with different ChatGPT prompts. For example, ZDNET's David Gewirtz asked the AI chatbot to write a WordPress plugin for him and used it to help him fix code faster. He also asked ChatGPT to write a Star Trek script, and started a business using the technology and other AI tools.

Also: 4 ways generative AI can stimulate the creator economy

Others have used it to write malware. One professor has promoted the use of ChatGPT in his classroom, and countless other teachers are using it even more than their students

How can I use ChatGPT without a login?

There's no way to use ChatGPT through OpenAI without logging in, and when you do create an account through the website, you must also provide an active phone number for confirmation.

Also: ChatGPT vs. Bing Chat vs. Google Bard: Which is the best AI chatbot?

If you'd rather access an AI chatbot without logging in to a website, you can use Bing Chat, which is not only free, but lets you use it without logging in, and it's built with GPT-4, a larger and newer model than the one used in ChatGPT, also from OpenAI. You can log in to Bing with a Microsoft account for extended conversations. 

HuggingChat is another AI chatbot that doesn't require users to log in to access it, but it's not as effective as ChatGPT and Bing Chat.

Can I use ChatGPT on my phone?

OpenAI launched an iOS app for ChatGPT, which you can find in the App Store if you have an iPhone and an Android app for ChatGPT. 

Also: These are my 4 favorite AI chatbot apps for Android

If you don't want to download an app, smartphone users can use the AI-based tool from their mobile browser on their device. 

The steps to use OpenAI's ChatGPT from your mobile browser are the same as above: go to chat.openai.com, log in, accept the terms, and start typing. The AI assistant will work just as it does when you access it from your computer. 

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